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April 6, 2017 blog

An Asian and Pacific Islander Perspective on Voter ID

Last week you may have read in the March 30th, 2017 'Let's Talk Human Rights!' blog piece from Iowa Secretary of State Paul D. Pate (SOS). In the article, Secretary Pate references his goal to modernize Iowa's election system. In addition to technological updates such as increased use of electronic poll books, SOS proposed changes include the requirement of a voter identification card (Voter ID).

In January, members of the Commission of Asian & Pacific Islander Affairs participated in a legislative training session as part of the commission's effort to play a more visual role representing the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in Iowa. It was at this morning training session that our commission committed to monitoring issues affecting underrepresented Iowans including those of Asian and Pacific Islander background or heritage.

With the assistance and dedicated work of Iowa Department of Human Rights staff including the Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, the API Commission on March 2, 2017 adopted an official policy statement with respect to the Voter ID bill making its way through the Iowa legislature. By taking this action, the API Commission marked a first in its function as a state commission formally adopting a position with respect to specific legislation at the Iowa Statehouse. The work of the commission was not yet over.

Just four days after adopting the policy statement on the proposed voter ID bill, the API Commission represented by me as the commission chair shared its position before a public hearing held at the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the State Capitol. This marked yet another first for the API Commission. As Secretary Pate indicated in last week's piece, anyone without a drivers’ license, state-issued non-drivers ID, military ID, veteran's ID or passport (and someone who could attest to a voter identity at his or her polling place) would automatically receive by mail a new voter ID card at no cost as long as one was registered as a voter in Iowa.

While new voter ID cards under the proposed bill allow already registered voters to vote in future Iowa elections these cards do not ensure that new eligible voters will be able to vote without first obtaining a voter ID card (or one of the six aforementioned forms of state issued IDs). This is of particular concern to first-time voters and those citizens of limited language proficiency.

Iowa's API community has unique challenges including English language proficiency. Nearly half of Asian and Pacific Islanders lack the same level of language proficiency compared to their native born counterparts. Combined with this statistic, nearly 15% of Iowa's Asian and Pacific Islander population live below the federal poverty level. While poverty is not unique to Iowa's API population, the combination of limited language proficiency and poverty pose challenges impacting Iowa's API population disproportionately than in other minority communities.

The commission may not have single-handedly changed the minds of legislators with respect to the outcome of the Voter ID bill. It currently awaits final consideration in the Iowa House (the Iowa Senate on 3/23/17 passed the House bill with amendments) before it is finally sent to the Governor's office to be signed. Nonetheless, the Commission of Asian & Pacific Islander Affairs remains committed in advocating on behalf of Iowans who otherwise may not have a voice to represent them in the public forum.


Ben Jung, Chair
Iowa Commission of Asian & Pacific Islander Affairs 

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Submitted by Kim Cheeks, Office on the Status of African Americans